Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Reflecting and Counting


  As I reflect on 2011 and each of my happy, difficult and quiet moments, I'm thanking God simply for being there, for guiding, loving, correcting, giving wisdom, and never leaving.

  And I'm thanking Him for the people that He's placed in my life.
   He's made my life fuller and more beautiful because of each of them.   I can't recall this year without counting these blessings He's given:

*My husband
  We've been through thick and thin.  He knows me better than anyone...the good, the bad, and the ugly, yet he loves me.  It's nice to know that someone knows you like that yet still calls you "Love".  Still wants to hold your hand and walk together into wherever the path leads.  He sees the world through optimistic eyes even when things are rough.  He never gives up.  He takes his time and tries his best.  He's humble.  He sees the best in people and in circumstances.  He admits his faults.  He loves God.  He loves his little family.  He keeps having fun, no matter what it looks like.  I love him.  And I need him.  God knows it.

*My family of awesome boys
  I get to love them and care for them every day.  I get to hear their laughter and rambunctious fun, their prayers at night and everything in between.  They bring this home to life.  They are sweet, funny and entertaining.  They are courageous.  They love to bee-bug (snuggle).  They give me kisses all the time.  They call me beautiful.  They are patient and forgiving with this flawed mommy.  And, although it can be a challenge being mommy to 3 boys, they've taught me so much and they've made my heart swell to ridiculous proportions.  Most of all, motherhood has drawn me closer to God because there's no way I can do this without Him!  It still amazes me that they are mine.  That I was chosen to be their mommy.  What an amazing gift!

*My family of awesome girls
My 2 sisters and 6 cousins, all girls.  I love these girls!  Love being surrounded by them.  The laughter is contagious and just doesn't stop when we are together.  I grew up with these girls, share a past with them, share memories that only they know, they are a part of me and I love it!  All of them are strong.  Each one has a story.  Each one is wife, mother and amazing woman.  They make me happy.

*My Dad
So thankful to have my Dad close.  It's great to talk to him on the phone and visit with him in person.  He's thoughtful.  For my birthday he takes the time to pick out the perfect Hallmark card, the one that seems it was written with me in mind, the kind that always makes me cry.  He's there for us.  He's been a help to us.  When I have a concern or a problem he offers to pray and I know he does each night.  The boys love going to Pop-pop's, especially to his pool in the summer-time.  It's a gathering place.  Lots of good times and memory-making.  I'm glad he's here.

*My friends
 My friends have been such an amazing blessing to me, especially this year.  God has brought a few new friends into my life, deepened some existing friendships, and renewed treasured old friendships.  Some friends have become like sisters to me.  Who show up just because.  Who give hugs just when I need them.  Who see my heartache when others are fooled by the smile on my face.  Who through their generosity, selflessness and unconditional love, have made me feel seen and cared for.  Who through their creativity have inspired me to create and be all that God made me to be.  Who through their testimonies have taught me and given me hope.  Who through their strength and courageousness have filled me with awe.  Who through their faith have lifted me.  We've prayed prayers, laughed and cried, celebrated good times, and shared heartaches together.  I am so thankful to God for these girls.  

This year has been one of pruning and digging deep.  Although it has been painful at times, I know it's necessary for growth and I wait expectantly for the bud of beautiful blooms.

  But, it's going through this process that I've
experienced the love of God through the love and kindness of others.

 He's always there. 
He always loves.
He sees.
He knows.
 He provides.

Continuing to look to His leading in the New Year.
And praying that you experience His unconditional love through the relationships in your life this New Year as well.

A Little Weekend Reading

It's New Year's Eve, a time of reflection on the past year and a time of looking ahead to a fresh, shiny new year of possibility.  These posts below have helped me to reflect and also set my heart on what's ahead.  Maybe you'll find them helpful too?  

1.  Want to reflect on your 2011 before you begin 2012?  Here are 20 questions you can use over at (in)courage.

2.  Working on new habits and consistency?  You might want to check out this free daily planner from A Holy Experience.

3.  Please don't miss it, wrote Sara Frankl, a blogger who is now in her heavenly home.  She wrote this on her final birthday earlier this year.  Read her words
 over at (in)courage and live wide awake to the ever-present blessings in your life.

4.  Choose one little word to sum up what you want for your life in 2012?  Ali Edwards shares the concept and her little word over at her blog.

Enjoy your time ringing in the New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with the Kids

I've been to plenty of New Year's Eve parties through the years, but the best one yet was last year as I rang in the new year with my husband and boys at home.
  About a week before New Year's, my husband decided the boys were old enough (7, 6, and 4) to stay up and see the ball drop, so he and the boys got busy buying decorations and enough snack foods to last us the night.

  That evening he decorated the dining room while I made pizzas, the boy's favorite, of course.
  The boys loved the party hats and blow horns.

  They even got me a girly hat which my cat Fifi ended up wearing for part of the evening.

  We had the best time just being together playing games and watching Dick Clark in Times Square.
  The boys were so excited to stay up until midnight!
  Except for my littlest guy who fell asleep 10 minutes before the ball dropped.
  We spent some time thanking God for the year we were saying goodbye to and remembering the things He had done.
  We also spent some time praying for the year ahead.
  I think we'll pray a little harder for 2012 because this one was tough!
  So very ready for a fresh start!!

  Anyway, I think we've started a new tradition and my boys love a family tradition.
 They've been talking about our New Year's Eve party for a month or so and are ready for the night of fun.  It's the ultimate family night!

How are you planning to ring in 2012?    

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books 2011


I love to read.
Now, that's not something I would have said of myself for most of my life, but a few years ago I discovered the joys of escaping into a book and I haven't looked back.
But, I haven't had the chance to read much lately, or should I say I haven't made it a priority over the past several months.
One of my goals for 2012 is to read more.
 There are just so many good books out there, and hello, every time I go to the library I still can't believe that they let you just take a pile of books home for free for a few weeks!

Anyway, I was just thinking about this longing to read more when I came across The Nester's link-up today.
She shared her 2011 book list and what's on her shelf for 2012 and she's invited others to share their lists and link-up over at her space.

I don't know about you, but I love to check out other people's book lists so I can get some ideas of great reads for myself.
So, I decided to join in over at the Nesting Place with my book list, not anything earth shockingly exciting, but I did get some books read in 2011.
  And I'm also going to be checking out the other lists and hopefully get a few ideas of great books to grab for 2012.

Here's my list of books read in 2011:
(not including the many I started and never finished)
1.  Rekindled by Tamara Alexander
2.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
3.  The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
4.  Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
6.  The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (in progress)
7.  One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
8. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
9. Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
10.  Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider
11.  Natural Health Remedies by Dr. Janet Macarro
12.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (in progress)

I'm realizing as I compile this list that nearly half of them were read-alouds I did with my boys before bed time.
  We started the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis at the end of 2010 and in 2011 we completed books 3-5, book 6 is in progress.  That just leaves book 7.
  It's been a great series and the boys have really enjoyed it.

My favorite books on this list are Little Women and One Thousand Gifts.
  I shared about Little Women here and One Thousand Gifts here.
  I'd recommend them to everyone and I'd read them again and again.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

When the Christmas Spirit is Hard to Muster

Are you struggling this Christmas and finding it a challenge to celebrate this year?
  Maybe you're dealing with a sickness, loss of a loved one, financial difficulty, or another major life-change.
These things can keep us awake at night tossing and turning, keep us distracted during the day, and just plain wear us out. 
Add Christmas to it and the problem and stress can feel magnified.

Then, along comes the guilt.
 The What's wrong with's Christmas I shouldn't be feeling this way, thoughts.
Toss that in with all the stress and sometimes it's just too much to handle. 

Sometimes it's hard.
Sickness has become an unwelcome guest in your home.
Someone who used to be there to celebrate with is gone.
You're unable to pay the bills or put food on your table.
The pain of life is ringing in your ears, stinging your eyes and catching in your throat.
And yet, it's Christmas.

We all have our ideas of how it should be.
Beautifully decorated home, twinkling tree, homemade cookies and hot cocoa, singing carols by the cozy fire, lots of loved ones, presents and good cheer.
Everything perfect.

And yet it's not perfect and we have these circumstances.
What do we do?
Do we give in to the stress, the pain, the sickness, the loss, the lack and say no to Christmas?
That's one idea.
Or do we give that stress, that pain, that sickness, that loss, that lack over to Jesus, the only one who can bear it, and gain the strength to say yes?

I've found myself in this situation this year.  
The stress and the problems can be so demanding and demeaning, staking claim on my time, energy, and thoughts.
  It threatens to rattle at my day, gnaw at my night, and control my very life.
Should I allow it?

In this season, this is what I've learned to do in order to not be overcome.
Wake up and say hello to Jesus and give Him what's on my mind and in my heart.
Speak out a scripture or 2 or 5 that has to do with my situation and let it build hope in me.
Remind myself that because I'm His child that good things will happen to me today.
Ask Him for His strength and wisdom.
Get out of bed and do this throughout the day, especially when the stress rises.
And receive the blessings.
And live.
And celebrate.
And invite Christmas into my home, into my heart, into my circumstance.

The stress still threatens, but I've been amazed daily at how prayers have been answered.
  Today, as I picked up my youngest from half-day kindergarten on his last day before Christmas break the school director handed me a card and wished me a Merry Christmas.  
Later, I opened the card to find, tucked inside it, my check for this month's tuition payment, that I had turned in earlier in the week, along with a note that said Samuel's tuition is being covered for the rest of the year! 
I was overwhelmed! 
I didn't ask for this, wouldn't ever have expected it. 
And as my tears flowed, I praised God who is good and remembered that He is a very present help in times of need.

I'm adding this gift to others that shine bright in the face of circumstances and continuing to count blessings:
*friends who really see and love and are there
*needs being met
*supernatural provision
*experiencing God's deep and perfect Love
*good hugs just when I need them
*happy, heartfelt tears shared with a friend
*my precious boys
*how they teach and inspire me
*a partner by my side

Whatever you're facing today, I wanted to leave you with this scripture from inside that beautiful miracle-carrying card.
I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great His power is to help those who believe Him.
Ephesians 1:19 TLB

May you invite Christmas in and find exactly what you need.

This post is linked up with others who are also counting blessings over at...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Weekend Reading


Ok, so the weekend is practically over and I'm just getting to sending this out.  But, weekend reading or not, I found some good ideas and still wanted to share.
We've been busy here finishing up the decorating, painting ornaments, and baking cookies.
  So that's why I've been quiet on the blog.
Lots of fun with the boys, but honestly I'm exhausted!
 Here are some links you may want to check out in this last week before Christmas...
{just click on the colored text}

1.  Kids want to make a gingerbread house?  Check out these little cuties made from graham crackers, hot glue and assorted candies from Under the Sycamore.

2.  Wonder what to give Jesus for His birthday?  Read this from A Holy Experience.  It will challenge you.  I was challenged and have been amazed at how my boys pore over this catalog deciding what to give Him.  After all, He's the one who should be getting the gifts.

3.  Want to go on a Christmas tour of homes without paying any money or leaving your house?  Check out the Christmas decor of over 500 people who have linked up over at the Nesting Place.  I'm hoping to take some pics of what we've done around here and jump in on the tour myself. 

4.  I don't have any little girls {sigh}, but if I did we'd make these easy and super cute Christmas ornaments from Meg over at Whatever.

5.  How creative are these self portrait ornaments from eighteen25?  They are an instant keepsake that you can display all year-round.  I'd love to try them.

6.  Ok, this is just silly and nothing to do with Christmas but made me laugh out loud.  You may have seen some of the "Hey Girl" photos with Ryan Gosling before, or maybe not.  Either way, here's a collection of them over at Joy's Hope with crafty quotes attached.

Enjoy this week friends!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When It Rains It Pours {Tuesdays Unwrapped}

via pinterest

The first time I walked into this children's hospital was 5 1/2 years ago.  I was holding my newborn baby,
a miracle bundle, tight in my arms.  My husband and I were in new territory.  Prior to this visit we never had to bring one of our boys to the hospital.  But, our Samuel was born with a cleft lip and palate so we were placed on a path that was new to us.  A path that included this hospital.  Oh how we’ve gotten to know this place and come to trust God’s hand on our child through the process.  Two surgeries and many follow-up visits later, here we were again for another routine visit.  It had been 2 years since we last entered this building.  We were scheduled to see 8 doctors.  Plan to stay the day, were the instructions we received in the mail.  So we packed accordingly and Samuel and I settled into the familiarness of the place.

I had no concerns about his progress.  He’s never had any of the trouble that the doctors said he may have.  God has been faithful.  But, I did have something weighing on my mind.  We don't have dental coverage.  With my husband being self-employed, it’s all we can do at this point to make the ridiculously high medical insurance payment each month.  It's been a tough year.  So, not having dental has not been our choice, but we just can’t afford it.  This has weighed on my mommy heart and affording to take my boys to the dentist has been one of my top prayers.  It was on my mind this day because I knew that one of the doctors would ask if Samuel had a dentist, and I would have to let them know that he didn’t because we couldn’t afford it, and that made me uncomfortable because I was concerned about what others would think.   Well, all 8 of the doctors asked and 8 times I  let them know what our situation was.  I think God was giving me a chance (or 8) to humble myself and to choose not to care what others thought.  By day’s end the cleft palate team coordinator called the financial aid department on our behalf and was told that people with private medical insurance don’t get aid with the hospital, but to bring us down anyway.  So Samuel and I went down, happy for a chance at some help but not sure it would happen, especially since we have medical. 

I entered Leta’s office and shared our situation with her.  Right away I felt at ease.  She was kind and caring, not at all demeaning or impatient.  No hardened cynicism, like since she’d seen one challenging financial situation, she’d seen them all.  She offered Samuel blocks to play with as I filled out the application form.  She gave me a list of paperwork that I needed to gather from home and told me she’d speak to her supervisor.  I thanked her with all my heart because I felt God in the place, His hand in arranging our meeting. 

I went back a few days later with a stack of paperwork in my hands and prayers on my lips.  I found Leta’s office and walked in the open door.  She remembered me and had my application in a pile on her desk.  She looked over the papers I brought her and shared that we qualified for 40% financial aid.
  That is so great, I thought.  But then she hesitated and I could tell she had something going on in her mind.  She pulled out 3 blank hospital benefit cards and she began filling them out.

As she wrote she said,
I’m going to give you 100% aid.....for all 3 boys!

  I just started crying right there as the shock of those beautiful words hit me.
  100% for all 3!

I came asking for aid for Samuel, and Ethan and Elijah received it as well!

   God is so good!!

  I didn't even have time to get my composure when she added to that,
 I'm also going to take care of your existing medical balance.


  We've been paying on the balance owed after insurance from Samuel's operations and many visits as a baby and it just seemed like it would never end.  After 5 years of payments, we still owed nearly $6000.

  She said,
 I'm applying the 100% to that and wiping out your balance...Merry Christmas!

 God's grace and favor rained down on me in that little office.  At those words, I was praising out loud and giving Him thanks through tears of joy and amazement!  Leta said she was a Christian and felt that her job was her mission field.  A place to show the love of God and be His helper as he worked in people’s lives. Oh and how He worked that day on our behalf!  Suddenly our hospital debt was gone and all 3 of our boys were covered 100% for dental.
  Only God!  

But isn't that just like Him though, to pay a debt that we can't pay and give a gift that we don't deserve?

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

I'm sharing this gift over at Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Movies...What's Your Fav?


Last night we got our Christmas tree.  The boys have been anxiously waiting to go all week.  So, when I picked them up from school and let them know that tonight was the night, they were so excited.

So, after scoring quite a nice deal on a rather beautiful tree, we went home and I made pizzas while Daddy and the boys brought the tree in and got it situated in the tree stand.  Then we gathered in the living room with tv trays filled with cheese, mushroom and sausage pies to search for a Christmas movie on the telly.  We found "The Santa Clause" and my boys were in.  They saw it last year for the 1st time and loved it.  It's a cute, fun, family movie.

I love myself a good Christmas movie this time of the year.  "It's a Wonderful Life", "The Nativity Story", the multitude of lesser-known ones on Hallmark Channel...I'm a sucker for them all.
But my absolute favorite is "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

The costumes, the singing and dancing, the 1950s it!  My sister and I used to do the "Sisters" number after dinner in the living room.  To this day, we'll still belt out a few of the lines together whenever the mood hits.  
So much fun!


So I was wondering...what's your favorite Christmas movie?
  Drop a line in the comments, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Love Came Down {Tuesdays Unwrapped}


What is it about Christmas time that has everyone talking about all they have to do?
I'm sure you've heard it and have maybe even said it yourself...

I have so much Christmas shopping yet to do.
 I need to get a tree.
 Can you believe it's only 19 days until Christmas?
I still have to bake cookies.
Should I send cards this year?
I wanted to have gifts and decorations made by now.
I have no idea what to get anyone.
I dread all the wrapping.
I need all new ornaments.
I have so much to do!

and on and on it goes...

It's so easy to get caught up in that.
 And if we're not careful we'll get carried away in that crazy current.
  Those words and the mindset they come out of is not the spirit of Christmas, but the spirit of the world.
  The spirit that says, do, do more, do it better, and keep on doing until you drop.

It's like Christmas is something I have to do instead of something that was done for me.  

    So, even though I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet.
 I need to get a tree.
 I can't believe it's only 19 days until Christmas.
I still have to bake cookies.
I decided not to send cards this year...well maybe just a few.
I wanted to have gifts and decorations made by now.
I have no idea what to get anyone.
I dread all the wrapping.
I'd love to have all new ornaments.
And, I have so. much. to. do!

 Today, I'm unwrapping the gift that is this moment.
  I'm taking time to quiet, enjoy and reflect upon the fact that Jesus came down from heaven, born in a manger, and wrapped in swaddling clothes to fulfill the Father's heart wish and bring us back to Him.

Love came down and rescued me.
I just simply need to receive.

Join me?
Take time to quiet, press play, and receive Love.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats
I'm sharing this gift over at Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Little Weekend Reading

love protects. love defends. love restores. love empowers. 

Hello sweet friends!
Here are a few things from around the web that I thought were worth mentioning this week.

1.  As you're buying gifts and giving this year, would you consider the children out there in the our country...some in our own neighborhoods, who are enslaved in a life of sex trafficking?  Read Jamie's post over at Simple Homeschool about a wonderful organization that brings awareness to this horrendous reality and also helps to bring freedom and hope to those who have been trapped in this modern day slavery.
  Maybe, at the very least, you can help with your prayers?
Click here to read about Love 146.

2.  Need some simple, homemade gift ideas?  You will love these personal care and food items to make and give...and maybe even keep for yourself from Keeper of the Home.

3.  What is it you truly seek?  That's the question for the desperate over at Chatting at the Sky.

4.  These white chocolate covered Oreos look so yummy and festive.  Perfect addition to your sweets tray at Christmas.  Check them out at Cupcakes and Crablegs.

5.  I've always wanted to make my own fudge.  These would make sweet little gifts.  Cookie-cutter fudge, so cute, from Betty Crocker.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Favorite Things

Who didn't love to watch the Oprah's Favorite Things episode each December?

I loved to watch the looks on the unsuspecting audience's faces when they realized that they weren't there for the usual Oprah show but the much anticipated Fav Things episode.

And that they'd be going home with some pretty awesome booty...

Love it!

Well, The Nester is hosting her own favorite things party...just for fun, not for reals.  I was inspired by her post and just had to add some of Oprah's pics to mine.
Everyone's linking up over at her blog to share their favorite things under $30.

Here are just a few of mine, in no particular order:

My friend gave this to me and I absolutely love it.  I'm a big fan of lip gloss and this one is a great peachy-nude shade with just a hint of iridescence and lots of shine.  Plus it has all of that good-for-your-skin stuff like collagen peptides, vitamins A and E...bonus. 
  But call me old-fashioned, I just like it because it's pretty and it makes my lips feel good.

It doesn't look like much here, but just sweep it onto your face with a brush and your skin has a natural glow.  It looks creamy and fresh on your skin.  The bonus is that you don't see makeup on your face you just see pretty skin.  I only wear bareMinerals makeup and I could have really gone with anything in their line as a fav, but I think the radiance beats all. 

I've shared before about my love for "Pride and Prejudice".  So this time I'm choosing another fav.  Although it's a classic, I hadn't read it until a year ago and I fell in love with this book about the March family.  The book just pulls you in to this beautiful family.  I loved "growing up" with these girls as I read about their lives and lessons learned.  It's so endearing and I quickly felt a part of their world.  I was actually sad when the book was over because it was that good.  Earlier this year I was at the Salvation Army and found a beautiful hard cover of the next book "Little Men" and am going to read it with my boys.

4.  "The Notebook" DVD $5
This is such a great movie.  I caught it on tv 2 years ago and fell in love with it.  Even my hubby loves it.  He bought it for me just a few weeks later at Christmas.  The love story that spans decades is so wonderful and touching.  Plus, I love the 1940s setting, costumes, hair and makeup.  Definitely grab the tissue'll need it.

5.  U2 "The Unforgettable Fire" $6
This is an oldie...all the way back to 1984.  But thanks to Grooveshark (a place to listen to all your favorite music for free...I'm a huge fan) I've been listening to it a lot lately.  It's lyrics are poetic and gritty and the music is so just feel it.  I find myself singing it throughout the day.  I think it only has 1 big commercial hit in "Pride (In the Name of Love)", but my favorites include the lesser known "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming".  I'm no Rolling Stone magazine music reviewer, I just like it. 
6.  Peppermint bark $5
I love this stuff!  I get it by the box full at the Produce Junction.  I was there before Thanksgiving and saw it already.  I was tempted to buy it, but knew that I would finish the box in like 2 days and then I'd be heading right back.  And this would continue right through Christmas.  So, I decided that I'll wait until a little closer to Christmas and then treat myself.

(ok so this is $18 more, but you get the color stick as a bonus and you can pay in 3 easy payments of $16, so I think that may still qualify)
I saw this on QVC earlier in the year when Josie Maran, a well-travelled model, said she discovered this stuff years ago when she was traveling in Morocco.  She saw a beautiful woman, whom she guessed to be about 40, with flawless, wrinkle free skin and asked her what she used on her face, she said only Argan Oil.  Then she politely corrected her about her age, which was 70!  I was sold! 
This stuff makes my face feel so good and comfortable, whether I'm in the dry winter air or the summer sun, without feeling like an oil slick.  And it's all-natural straight from the Moroccan Argan tree.

So what do you think after I revealed my favorite things?  
Are you as excited as he is?

*All photos here of hysterical audience reactions from Oprah's Favorite Things.
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